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Plenty, Chicago Grocery Store, Aims To Bring Local, Healthy Food To Ukrainian Village

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Plenty, a neighborhood grocer and deli, is turning to Kickstarter in order to get the funds it needs to open at 2036 W. Division St.
Plenty, a neighborhood grocer and deli, is turning to Kickstarter in order to get the funds it needs to open at 2036 W. Division St.

David Sommers and Gwen Harley most likely didn't grow up thinking they would one day open up a neighborhood grocery store.

But after Sommers, a community-focused entrepreneur and partner at print and design studio The Post Family, and Harley, an interior designer, spent some time living near the busy intersection of Damen and Division in Chicago's Ukrainian Village, they noticed a void when it came to locally-sourced, healthy food options nearby.

In order to take advantage of that niche, the two partnered to create Plenty, a neighborhood-centric grocery store and deli. And though they have gotten the bulk of their startup funds together, they still need help to cross the finish line.

The two launched a Kickstarter with that aim and -- with less than a week to go -- still aren't quite there.

Continuing the "Can They Kick It?" series, HuffPost Chicago interviewed Sommers about his vision for a new venture.

The Huffington Post: What was the impetus for you and Gwen to bring Plenty into reality?

David Sommers: Both Gwen and I saw that the area we were in could use a grocery store, and it was good opportunity to help expand the local food system by providing another outlet for local farmers and producers, so we decided to open Plenty.

(Scroll down to watch Plenty's Kickstarter campaign video.)

HP: Obviously, location is everything with any business, but particularly with grocery stores. Tell me about why you chose this location?

DS: We live in the neighborhood and this strip is void of grocery options. Every other store is just out of a convenient reach for a lot of people, especially the population that relies on walking, biking and public transportation. Having convenient access to healthy food really improves the quality of living, and we believe it will be a good addition. It's also one of a few buildings on Division with parking, which makes it even more accessible for the disabled, parents juggling kids and grocery bags, and those of us who tend to drive when the weather is bad.

HP: When I checked out your Kickstarter, my instant reaction was along the lines of "Isn't there something like this already in the area?" And was surprised to see there really isn't -- why do you think that is? I know some businesses in this area have struggled with the high price of rent.

DS: You're right, there isn't, and that's why we believe this is a great location. To people who live outside the neighborhood it seems fully developed but when you live somewhere you can see the opportunities and needs that a neighborhood can really benefit from. Wicker Park and the Ukrainian Village have a big shopping and eating-out draw, but there is a whole community here that wants to see the neighborhood have well-rounded business offerings.

Rent prices on Division are higher than on Chicago and farther West but there's also a lot of traffic and many established business that people have been going to for years. Rent is certainly a major cost but it's only one of many.

HP: It sounds like you've tried out a number of other routes for funding -- was that a frustrating process for you?

DS: It's always a challenge getting funding for a project, and we were fortunate enough to raise some funding early on to get the store moving forward, cautiously, knowing that we were going to need more to get it up and running. That's why we need the money from Kickstarter. It only makes up a small portion of the total but it is as essential as the rest.

We really hope that crowdfunding becomes more of a norm. It's a great tool for communities and to make projects come to life. I've personally backed many projects, and will definitely be paying it forward in the future if we are successful in raising the money we need.

HP: And you've also chosen to make healthy, locally sourced, organic, vegetarian- or vegan-friendly and gluten-free goods an important presence among Plenty's offerings. Why was that an important component of the business plan?

DS: It's no mystery that your food choices have a direct impact on your health and quality of life, and that small shifts in where we spend money have a huge ripple effect which can cause lasting changes in areas that need attention.

More people are concerned about over-processed foods, the use of chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, unnecessary preservatives and the environmental impact of it all. More people are becoming aware of food allergies -- most, like celiac disease, go undiagnosed. And more people are identifying themselves as vegetarians and vegans. We want people to know that we're looking out for their needs. We want Plenty to be a place where you can get everything you need to make a great meal. To do that you need to be able to know you're getting great food and be able to quickly identify if a product meets your needs.

With six days to go as of Wednesday, the Plenty Kickstarter has raised about $10,500 toward its $15,000 fundraising goal. Click here to help the campaign get the rest of the way and to learn more about the Ukrainian Village grocery store and deli.

If you have a Chicago-based Kickstarter or IndieGoGo project that you'd like to see featured in "Can They Kick It?"? Get in touch at chicago@huffingtonpost.com.

WATCH: Plenty's Kickstarter campaign video: